Created by Ian Brennan and Ryan Murphy, Hollywood follows intersecting fictional characters and real-life icons as they conquer the entertainment industry that is riddled with an oppressive zeitgeist of homosexuality, females and persons of colour behind the glamorous facade.
The series opens with Jack Castello (David Corenswet), a married veteran with twins on the way, who like a million others, floods fictional ACE Studios, hoping to be picked as an extra the day. Out of luck, again and again, Jack reluctantly accepts a position at the Golden Tip gas-station, a role for pretty faces sporting vanish white uniforms, servicing cars and well, its customers who seek to visit “dreamland”.
This extracurricular service is actually what lands Jack his foot in the door and is how fellow creative, screenwriter Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope) develops a romantic relationship with aspiring actor, Rock Hudson (Jake Picking). Archie is under contract with ACE Studios, seeking to sell his script “Peg” that follows the tragic story of British actress, Peg Entwistle, who driven by the ruthless nature of show business jumped off the Hollywood sign.
Raymond Ainsely (Darren Criss), a first-time director, aims to make his mark with Archie’s script, in hopes to later direct a film that will see his screen idol, Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec) as lead, who in real life was famously passed over as the lead in the film, The Good Earth — a story about a Chinese farmer’s struggle to survive — a role that was given to and won caucasian actress Luise Rainer the Academy Award. This Hollywood pattern of having talent of colour in stereotypical roles as the help, let alone even considering them for lead roles, also has Raymond’s girlfriend, Camille Washington (Laura Harrier), the only African-American actress currently under contract with ACE Studios, sick and tired.
Everything takes a turn as Ainsley alongside Pope, former silent film actress and wife to studio-head Avis Amberg (Patti LuPone), studio execs Ellen Kincaid (Holland Taylor) and Richard Samuels (Joe Mantello), and real-life talent agent, Henry Wilson (Jim Parsons) join forces to make history by turning “Peg” into “Meg”, placing Camille Washington and Jack Castello as leads to portray a then unspeakable interracial relationship that could well bankrupt the studio and strip all of them of the little or lots of power they have. Impeccably, the show sets an example to allow key characters’ suffering transcend and co-exist without one ever taking or demanding the spotlight. Instead, they fight together for an artistic holy grail that brings positive social change.
The happier twist of Hollywood doesn’t reflect history, rather the show’s tag-line and early dialogue that promises delivery of a re-imagination of the post-World-War II era. At that, the series has been criticised for telling an “idolized version” that is “pumped full of lies” as if changing the outcome never was the point. The entertainment industry, like any other, follows trends shaped by society and political climate, telling new stories or recycling old ones in ways that fit the time with faces that typically don’t capture the world’s entire diversity. At that, Hollywood recycles its own story with quicker steps into the right direction of acceptance and inclusion, with no seeming intention to ridicule the real-life lengthy bravery it took for societal change, but show what life could have looked like then. Albeit reimagined, Hollywood
strikes as a nostalgic love letter to the Golden Age of film-making and the sacrifices of making the break in Tinseltown with a crushing and dark reality behind its glamorous curtain. And lest we forget, film and television don’t have to be monogamous to reality, and perhaps there is a much bigger lesson to be learned if a fictional speedier progression toward inclusion and equality, as well as more accepting and kinder characters are under-valued in 2020.